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(Virtual) Reality Check

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media Marketing, November 14, 2007

There was plenty of discussion about new media at the 2007 HealthLeaders Media Marketing Awards held last Friday, including forecasts about what the future might bring. Among the predictions I heard, even if they might have been exaggerated for effect: Every hospital CEO will have a blog, every doctor will be on Facebook, and all marketing will be delivered via cell phone.

A future where marketers put 100 percent of their ad buys into cell phones? I'm not buying it. For starters, not everyone has a cell phone. In fact, though it is the cause of constant amazement and frequent jokes at my expense, I do not have a cell phone. And if I did have one? No offense, but I wouldn't give the number to you (or to any other marketer, for that matter).

Think about it. Your organization probably has a hard enough time collecting e-mail addresses and getting permission to send messages that are free for your customer to receive. But unlike e-mail, cell phone users (so I've heard) must pay for the calls and text messages they receive. I'd be pretty annoyed (or so I imagine) if my phone kept ringing and the calls were not coming from friends and family, but from hospitals and physician practices reminding me to get my annual physical, schedule a mammogram, or attend their 100th anniversary celebration.

A caveat: There are some ways that marketers can use cell phones to deliver messages that serve to market your organization in a subtle way while delivering information that the customer actually wants to receive.

For example:

  • You could send a heart health tip of the day to your cardiac patients or those who have a family history of heart disease
  • You could send a text message with healthy food choices and recipes to your bariatric patients or health fair attendees who expressed a concern about their weight
  • You could send a small photo each week to expectant mothers showing them what their baby looks like, based on due date
  • You could send descriptions and illustrations of back-friendly exercises to patients who have back pain or have recently had orthopedic surgery

Of course these would have to be opt-in messages. That means you've got to do the work of getting those phone numbers. And you won't reach as wide an audience as you would with traditional mediums although, in many cases, such targeted marketing is more effective.

But keep in mind that people can delete cell phone messages as quickly and as easily as they can (and do) delete e-mail messages. Bottom line: Take predictions about the latest be-all and end-all wave of the future, those hot trends that are touted as the solution to all problems, with a healthy dose of common sense:

  • When an advisor tells you that all hospital CEOs must have a blog, consider whether your CEO is really the type of person who would present the best image of your organization to internal and external customers
  • When a futurist predicts that anyone in your organization who doesn't know HTML will soon be obsolete, hold off on mass-scale training sessions or pink slips
  • When a consultant tells you your Web site needs a complete overhaul, do some research about what your customers actually want from your site, and put some thought into what it can do for your strategic mission
Listen, I'm no Luddite. I might not have a cell phone, but I do have plenty of other digital toys, I do know HTML, and I do believe that new media will play a huge role in the future of healthcare marketing. But predictions that suggest these kinds of efforts will, at some point down the road, be the only way we reach consumers? Well, that just doesn't ring true to me.
For more news on our 2007 marketing awards, check out Maureen Larkin's report, posted live from the event, an look for additional coverage in HealthLeaders magazine. We'll also be publishing a book in early 2008 with images from and descriptions of all the winning campaigns, including the judges' comments and specifics about campaign results.
Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.

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